There was a lot of excitement heading into the 2012 NFL draft. It was going to be a quarterback draft. Andrew Luck went first. Robert Griffin III went second. Six picks later, Miami took Ryan Tannehill. With the 22nd pick, Cleveland did what Cleveland does – draft Brandon Weeden.
It took a long time for another team to value a quarterback worth drafting. The next one didn’t come off the board until Brock Osweiler with the 57th pick. Jacksonville thought the crop was so weak it drafted punter Bryan Anger with the 70th pick. So it was 75 picks into the draft that Russell Wilson would come off the board.
In his fourth season, Wilson has already been to two Super Bowls and has a championship to his credit. He is a glove fit in Pete Carroll’s offense and poses big problems for defenses.
At all three levels, the Vikings know it.
Up front, Brian Robison will be in charge of containing Russell in the pocket on his side of the field. Mobile quarterbacks cause problems with their feet, escaping a pass rusher, extending a play and often getting wide open receivers who could finally beat containment.
“He’s got some Aaron Rodgers in him,” Robison said. “The thing with Russell is that he makes plays from anywhere. He and Rodgers are similar in that they can move around and keep plays alive. Where I see the difference with Russell is that a guy like Rodgers is running and usually still looking to throw. Russell does throw on the run, but when he tucks that ball down, he’s like a running back and can gain yards in a hurry.”
For linebackers the problem is that, as the second line of defense, they are in charge of tracking Wilson when he gets through the front four. Their problems are two-fold. Can they get there before he runs to daylight and are they vacating a spot on the field chasing him that will now spring a big play in the passing games.
It’s definitely a pick-your-poison scenario.
“He’s been to the Super Bowl two years in a row, so obviously he’s doing something right,” middle linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “It’s the playmaking ability he carries. Whether the look is there or it’s not there, he can scramble and make it with his feet. Running quarterbacks are the hardest ones to face sometimes.”
While they are the farthest away from him at the snap, players in the secondary have to work the hardest because, whenever he drops to pass, there’s no assumption of how long with go by from the start of the play to the end.
Defensive backs see the most of the field because of their distance from the line of scrimmage. They see Wilson react to plays in a panoramic view. Safety Harrison Smith has to react to moving bullets, not knowing the shooter’s location at all times.
“He’s smart, especially when it comes to taking care of the ball,” Smith said. “He extends plays with his legs. He’s a fast guy. Quick. He can make free blitzers miss and keeps plays alive. You have to be conscious of that and know that you’re going to have to cover receivers a little longer. The play may break down but you have to keep covering because you never know when he’s going to escape and make a deep throw.”
The problem is similar for cornerback with one notable exception – they often have their back to the quarterback, assuming what is going on without having the remotest clue for three or four seconds what is actually going on behind them.
As a slot corner, Captain Munnerlyn deals with receivers up close and personal. He spends more time with his back to a play than looking down the sights at it. He’s preparing for a long day.
Much like a rodeo cowboy, he’s preparing for a finishing scenario in similar terms.
“We’re thinking we have to cover guys for eight seconds,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s always moving around and, even when he takes off, before he gets to the line, if he sees something open up downfield, he’ll slow down and make the throw for a big gain. A play isn’t over with him until you hear the whistle.”
From Munnerlyn’s view of film, as much as teams worry about Wilson’s legs, his concern is more about Wilson’s arm.
“We know going into the game that we have to cover guys for a longer period of time because of the things he can do to extend a play,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s a guy that can make every throw. People sleep on his arm strength. He can throw the ball 70 yards easy. I’ve seen him do it on film and I was like, ‘Who-o-a!’ He’s definitely got a strong, live arm.”
When he was coming out of Wisconsin for the 2012 draft, there wasn’t a clamoring for Wilson to be the next big thing. Less than four years later, he’s been to two Super Bowls and has his sights set on a third.
He wasn’t a valued commodity when he was drafted – a PUNTER went in front of him – but any disrespect Wilson was shown on draft day has been a receipt paid.
He’s 2-0 against the Vikings and his team has put up 71 points in those two games. Respect is earned. Wilson has earned it.
The Vikings defense is hoping that futility doesn’t come in threes.
If nothing else, they know what’s coming and they’re prepared.